Activate Learning at Home

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School Psychologist

As you prepare for another eventful home schooling day and reflect upon feedback received from your child’s teachers; progress reports, phone calls and scores on standardized tests. Surely, you think to yourself, “I thought I could do better, but this is a handful!” By the way, if you are unsure of yourself or your pedagogical skills, or your are worried that your child or teen may not have the tools necessary to stay on track, please please visit my Amazon store. All of the products listed have been expertly curated by a School Psychologist.

Especially when you’ve heard the constant refrain that you child is not participating in class, is a slow learner, lacks interest, is inattentive, or is disengaged. Comments such as these serve as lead-ins to ‘he is disruptive in class,’ or ‘she is too talkative to friends,’ the list goes on.

As a concerned parent, one might find such teacher feedback particularly alarming. Thoughts of learning disabilities, potential ADD/ADHA diagnosis, Section 504 or IEP special education hearings follow. You may feel a sense of desperation looming ahead; now that the responsibility of your child’s learning has been firmly placed in your hands.

Why not take a breath? This is not to minimize your worries,  trivialize the teacher’s concerns nor to negate the expert opinion of medical professionals such as school-based psychologists or guidance counselors. However, the purpose of this article is to present this dilemma from a different perspective.

Parents are the Primary Learning Source

In spite of today’s Covid-19 challenges and governor’s ‘stay in place’ orders, believe it or not, parents have always been (and remain so) the primary source of social learning for their kids according to Albert Bandura. Modeling appropriate behavior is goal number one. Perhaps a close second is to provide learning opportunities in the home and during recreation to supplement the material taught at school. For instance, opportunities to help your child uncover the joys of learning outside school grounds are plentiful.

Before the health pandemic struck, I jotted down a list of activities and published them in an E-Zine magazine. This morning I updated the article to support parents as they navigate through these treacherous and often unknown waters. I have full confidence in you as I am sure that you have always been involved in your child’s learning from day one, and will do what I can to provide you with non-computer-based as well as technology driven resources for extended home-based learning. This article emphasizes non-computer-based activities.

Morning Prep. Color coordination, scheduling, organization of class materials, homework assignments, and chore completion represent just a few of the learning concepts applicable to everyday life. An item ripe for review and discussion is the way in which a delay in timing of a separate and individual act may cause the eventual delay in a string of connected events. Glenn and Nelson (1988) point to these systemic skills as one of the seven significant skills leading to youth resiliency.

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Meal Time.  The food pyramid, the importance of eating a nutritious meal, the five food colors, explanations of daily values (2,000 calories intake per day:DV) are all valuable lessons to be learned and re-learned by our somewhat overweight population. Pointing to the games on the back of cereal cartons and applying geometric concepts to pieces of pie, pizza, portions of Hershey candy bars are creative activities everyone may enjoy.

While in the restaurant (or when preparing home meals), take more than a cursory glance at the child’s menu. Help your child to color, finish the maze, play tic tac toe, and find the words. Take turns reading the menu. Ask your child to read aloud his selection. Decode, translate the Spanish, Italian and French dishes into English.

Family Life and Budgeting. At home, actively engage your child in meal preparation, grocery shopping, menu planning, inventorying of needed food items, discussing and selecting appropriate utensils according to family size, ingredients and servings portions. It might be helpful to explain family budgeting, checking and ATM and debit cards.

Drive to School or Virtual/ Remote Activities.  Prior to the global health pandemic, taxing your child to and from activities and school represented a time to discuss navigation skills.  Did mom turn right or left? How many stop lights did we cross? To review number codes and patterns, ask your child to identify the recite the last 3 digits of the license plate of the car directly ahead? Is the driver from the same state?

Geography and Science. Even without access to a car, bus or metro however, the discussion of survival skills, knowledge of geography, location and weather patterns are always timely. Do you have a road map in your car, tourist destination, amusement or shopping mall map or layout stuffed in a kitchen drawer? Pull it out and take about geospatial locations, explain how to read latitude and longitudinal coordinates. Or bring out the old and weathered Boy and/or Girl Scout Guide Books for earning patches and pick out activities appropriate for indoor or close-range outdoor exercises.

Did you stop to think that your back yard represents its very own ecosystem? Which type of birds frequent your back porch? Where and at what time does the sun set and rise? Which types of clouds are present today? At night, is the moon visible? Which moon cycle is it? Can we compute the temperature in Celsius and Fahrenheit?

Survival Skills. Brainstorm on hypothetical scenarios for safety and survival in the event that a family member becomes ill or injured while at home or out and about. What are the steps to take should the family or an individual member is stranded, would they be able to find their way home, know who to contact and have access to their contact information?

Education as Entertainment. Let your child routinely observe you reading the daily news, magazines and the newspaper. Take him aside, pick an article and read sentences together. If there is a front page story in the news about military drone planes and you know that your child has an interest in military science, share the news with him. Read the news article together.

Mathematics and Computation Skills. Ask your child to help you decipher receipts, interpret sale and promotion prices, calculate savings earned or determine the price per ounce of  his favorite jar of peanut butter or jelly. In so doing, you’ll help him see the relevance to learning and how it is applicable to smooth functioning in everyday life. You will also boost his confidence in his learning and sharing abilities, making it far easier for him to speak up in a classroom setting.

Parent-Teacher- School Relations

Refrain from discussing negative teacher feedback in front of the kids. Also try to speak about this temporary home-based learning situation positively. Stress, anger, and frustration may be express in verbal and nonverbal ways. Kids pick up on cues and have a ready antenna to sense these signals. Signals, that may negatively impact their perception of school (and this pandemic situation in particular), cap and place limits to their abilities and de-legitimize the learning process in all together.

Once life returns to normal, let your child observe you and her teacher during a joint problem solving session. Help her to realize that problems are surmountable it approached one step at a time. Further, instill within your child that the problem currently presented is separate from the person and separate from the setting. Help him to understand that this current situation is not generalizable across settings or particular to a certain environment; rather it is a happening at this moment in time. Gross generalizations lead to external locus of control, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; in essence youth and adults who fail to self actualize. Like time, it is transient, in flux and constantly changing. 

Unfortunately, such experiences drive parents to ‘turn off’ to school activities, parent-teacher organizations and conferences. They take their child’s experience to heart and make it their own. They may choose to lead the parent rebel rouses, gossip and complain incessantly to school administrators and anyone else who will listen (the school board and editorial board of the local newspaper).  This subversive activity, while personally gratifying is not recommended. Our kids emulate our behavior in the best of times. When we are at our worst, you can bet that our indiscretions will be imitated also. Kids too will internalize negative feedback and begin to act out in predictable ways. In essence, she will become what is expected of her. In this case, she too will ‘turn off’ to school. Learning will become a chore, a bore, a hassle. He may choose to deal with this temporary setback much like his parents, by rebelling against school in general, band with the childhood bullies and find his identity and seek validation in all the wrong places.

Homework and Home-based Learning

In the past, before the health crisis, research-based recommendations stated that parents must become actively engaged in homework assignments. This is much more evident today. And, particularly true for parents of children who have had school and or family issues in the home. We must find creative ways to explain critical concepts and theories.

Yes, homework is demanding. But frequently overwhelmed teachers (30 to 40 students per class is not uncommon), an influx of incoming non-native English language learners, and a reliance upon full inclusion models prove daunting for inexperienced and veteran teachers alike. Therefore little time is spent teaching the background, the rudimentary and the fundamentals. Classic Latin prefixes and suffices of  root words, multiplication tables, grammatical rules of the English language serve as structure and frame the learning experience from which added content will fill with time. Further, most kids blossom with one-on-one instruction and attention; who better to offer this than the parent?

Accentuate and Build Upon Your Child’s Strengths

A plethora of psychological assessments and testing instruments are bountiful in the attempt to learn more about your child. Quite frankly, these assessments serve to uncover information in which the parent already knows.

You are the expert in your child’s behavior, learning style and interests. We must be mindful though that the cognizant of the fact that the mind of a child is in constant development. What we knew about our child 3 months ago or even yesterday may not be absolute today. We must communicate with our children constantly and continuously, in many mediums.

Does your child learn better by doing? Does he respond more rapidly to visual aids or auditory sound? Is he more apt to be motivated by positive reinforcement or negative conditioning? Does she like to learn new concepts alone or in the company of others? Does she prefer to play with dominant or passive playmates? Is she leaning toward an introverted nature or extroversion?

Invest more time in learning about the unique nature of your child. Is she drawn toward military models, Dora exploratory pursuits, Harry Porter mysteries or engineering concepts of Lego toys? Find out and build conversations and new experiences around her interests. You might incorporate his interests into the learning act and the learning environment. Yes, school.

Conclusion

Now, we have come full circle. In the event that it is necessary to seek the resources of a school psychologist, guidance counselor,health professional, reading, speech or learning specialist; you are better equipped to offer an expert’s perspective and valuable anecdotal information. Information that may ultimately lead to a comprehensive intervention plan that will fully activate your child’s learning capabilities. Don’t forget to check out my Amazon store if you’d like additional activity ideas to help your child stay on track during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowldge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com

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